Three years ago today, I died. I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but I’m guessing it was an accident and that it happened quickly. After all, I was young, just 22 years old at the time, and quite healthy. The last thing I remember is that I was on the bus, heading home to visit my parents for Chinese New Year. I remember I was nervous because I was planning to tell them about my girlfriend for the first time. We had been together for just 6 months at that time, but we were very much in love and already thinking of marriage. At just 22 years of age and only together for 6 months, I worried that my parents would not be supportive, but I had to try.
Since the day I died, I have no memories and no awareness of any sort of existence. A few minutes ago, I suddenly became aware of myself, that I was able to have thoughts. I have no body, but I have some ability to perceive my surroundings. Without a body, I have no eyes to see, but I still know where I am and what’s around me. It’s hard to explain, but you can attempt to understand if you imagine being in a very familiar place. In fact, you can even try this out. Go someplace that is very familiar to you and take a careful look around. Then close your eyes and picture what you just saw in your head. Turn your head from side to side and imagine what you would see if your eyes were open.
This is what it was like when my mind first awoke a while ago. I have no head to turn from side to side, but still I can know my surroundings. I have no ears to hear, but in the same way I know what sounds are being made in the vicinity. I have no nose to smell, but just as you can imagine a smell, I knew that my favorite dish was being prepared. The scent of beef together with my favorite spices woke me up and filled my mind. But where was it coming from?
I sensed that I was in my parents house, in the room reserved as a family shrine. Incense had been lit, and the scent of it mixed together with the scent of the meal. How sweet it was! Suddenly, I knew that my mother was there. She was almost the same as I remembered her, but more tired somehow. In her hands, she held the bowl of food which she gently placed on the shelf she and my father had prepared to remember me. I never thought I would have a place in that room.
“You have a visitor today,” my Mom murmured softly. If I had been there bodily, I would not have been able to hear her words, but I could clearly feel what she wanted to say. A visitor?
And then there she was. The girl I had never had the chance to introduce to my parents. The girl I had fallen in love with so deeply. The girl I still felt an intense love for though I knew so much time had passed. Linyi. How was she here?
“I’ll give you some time,” my mother said softly as she headed out the way she had come in.
“Thank you,” said my girlfriend, Linyi, to my mother as she walked past. She was so beautiful still, but like my mother, she looked tired. Where had all of her endless energy gone? I had always struggled to keep up with her great exuberance for life. But now, she seemed exhausted. Where was the light that had always been there in her eyes? The last three years had clearly taken some great toll on her.
Linyi stood before my shrine and looked at the picture of me that had been placed there. Her eyes started to water, and I ached to hold her. Please don’t be sad, I thought, but it was clear that she could not sense my thoughts at all.
“Why Guowei? Why did you have to leave me?” The tears rolled down her cheeks. Of course I had no response. Even if she could sense me, what could I say? I had no memory of my own death, but I knew I had not chosen it. All I knew is that despite everything, I still loved her and I knew that I always would.
From her bag, she pulled out some more scented joss sticks. She carefully lit them with those already lit and then bowed her head. I know she had never really believed in these traditions before, but her actions at this time seemed genuine. She very much wanted me to know that she was there. Is that why I was able to wake up?
No sound escaped her lips as she began to pray, but I could sense her emotion as she expressed the feelings of her heart. Perhaps because they were directed at me, I was able to sense what she wanted me to know. Sometimes in words or images, and sometimes in pure feelings and emotions, I felt the intent of Linyi’s prayer. After I had died, she had withdrawn from the world and had gone into a deep depression. She had dropped out of school and gone back to live with her parents, locking herself in her room most of the time. If I had been able to cry, I would have been weeping for the pain she had endured. I had no memory of experiencing pain in death, but it is the living that suffer. If only I could do something for her.
Then Linyi explained the purpose of her seeking out my family and coming to visit me on the anniversary of my death. She wanted to move on. “I’m so sorry,” she expressed in words. “I will always love you. You know that. But you’re gone now, … and I’ve been so lonely.” Her emotions overwhelmed her again for a minute before she was able to continue.
“Please let me go,” she pleaded. “Let me go.” She took a deep breath trying to keep her composure and to finish what she had started. “I just feel so guilty every time I talk to another guy,” she admitted, “but I don’t want to be alone anymore!”
I tried to absorb the words she had spoken. What was she asking me to do? What could I do? Could I really let her go? Could I accept that she might want to be with someone else? That she might get married to another guy? That she might have children with someone else? Could I agree to that?
At first, my mind screamed no. How could she want to be with someone else? Didn’t she love me still? I loved her so much. Didn’t she understand that? I did love her. I do love her.
And as I reflected on that love that I had and have for her still, and as I felt her pain in this moment and reflected on the suffering she had endured for the past three years, I knew that I must do as she asked. How could I not? But how could I give her my answer?
All I could do was try. I could imagine every other sense, so why not touch? I imagined how it would feel to hold her in my arms one last time. As I imagined it, I felt like it was true. I felt the warmth of her body and the beating of her heart. As I held her, I directed every feeling of love that I had into her being. And with that love, I sent my approval. Because I loved her, I would let her go. I would be happy with her happiness and rejoice in the future joys she might experience. I willed her to understand my feelings.
“Oh Guowei,” she cried. “Thank you.” I knew that she had received my gift to her. I could see light returning to her eyes and she seemed to stand a little straighter. Her energy seemed to rise within her and color returned to her face. I felt warm as well, as I saw the effect I had had on her. That warmth continued to increase, and with it I felt sleep coming on again. Would I wake again or was this my final end? I couldn’t say, but I was not unhappy. The warmth of my love for her was still alive within me, and I believed that even in sleep, it would continue.